Covid-19: furloughed Laura Ashley workers fashion NHS scrubs

Staff at fashion chain Laura Ashley, which collapsed at the start of the coronavirus lockdown, are now manufacturing medical scrubs and other essential products for the NHS on a voluntary basis, administrators at PwC have revealed

Laura Ashley Holdings and the joint administrators from PwC have an agreement with Alexandra Workwear to manufacture 3,000 sets of medical scrubs a week alongside other essential products for the NHS, such as cubicle curtains.

The activity will take place at the group’s Texplan manufacturing division based in Newtown, Wales, thanks to 41 staff members volunteering to return to work and drive the activity. Social distancing guidelines will be observed at all times during production.

Linda Andrew, a Laura Ashley supervisor who joined the company the same month it was officially opened by Diana, Princess of Wales back in 1987, was on furlough when her manager called to ask if she might consider coming back to work. 

Andrew said: ‘I don’t have the skills to physically help out in a hospital, but this is something I can do. We’ve experience of making beautiful handmade curtains for Laura Ashley, but it has been a while since we made garments here in Wales. 

‘But we’re an adaptable bunch so I’m confident we’ll be able to turn our hand to sewing scrubs.’

Katharine Poulter, Laura Ashley’s CEO, appointed in February and working towards a potential sale of the business to save UK manufacturing and retail jobs, explained the idea arose during talks with the Welsh government about turnaround plans for a new restructured and profitable Laura Ashley Group.

Poulter is spearheading a ‘Bring Laura Back’ initiative to create the company’s original designs in a modern way and to start producing them back in Wales where its story first began. 

Poulter said: ‘I am passionate about growing British manufacturing and bringing those skills and jobs back to our heartland in Wales for future generations of makers and Laura Ashley customers.   

‘During my conversations with the Welsh government, the urgent need for more NHS clothing and outerwear came to light and our teams jumped at the opportunity to lend their skilled hands.

‘It fills me with enormous pride that, against a backdrop of such personal uncertainty, so many are willing to return to help our incredible NHS frontline workers who are caring for so many.’

Rob Lewis, joint administrator and PwC partner, said: ‘It’s testament to the resilience and the will of the staff members in these difficult times that they are putting others first and lead this vital work. We are very grateful to them for volunteering and for their future efforts.

‘I’m delighted that our conversations with the Welsh Assembly have led to the signing of a contract with Alexandra Workwear, who are a supplier to the NHS in Wales. We’ll be providing garments, such as scrubs, on a not-for-profit basis for frontline NHS workers.’

Lewis, along with Zelf Hussain and Rachael Wilkinson were appointed as joint administrators of Laura Ashley Holdings, Laura Ashley Ltd, Laura Ashley Investments Ltd, Texplan Manufacturing Ltd and Premier Home Logistics Ltd just as the official lockdown began on 23 March.

Following the government’s announcement in relation to the coronavirus job retention scheme, the administrators applied to include a large number of Laura Ashley’s employees within the scheme. The joint administrators confirmed to 1,669 store employees on 31 March that they would be furloughed.

Laura Ashley continues to trade via its website while striving to secure a buyer.  There are 500 Laura Ashley personnel based in Wales, with 170 involved in the manufacture of products such as paint, wallpaper, made to measure curtains and blinds. 

By Pat Sweet

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